Letters From Exile

...Scott Bidstrup's Life And Living In Costa Rica

Wed, Jun 30 2004

Impromptu Tree Butchery

Today started out rainy and cold, and I didn't figure I would get much done. So it was pretty lazy around the place all morning, mostly sitting on the front porch in the rocking chair, sipping tea and watching the ICE contractor's crews working on the power lines in the pouring rain. So far, no more poles have been set, but the same crew has gone to work butchering trees that may someday grow out to touch the power lines. None on my property, thank goodness, though there is one that was planted as a fence post and has grown out over the street, and at some point, may very well grow into the power line. They said they would be back tomorrow, and we'll see if they cut that tree. Won't hurt my feelings any - while it is a very good variety of mango, it is badly misshapen, and needs to be cut down and allowed to regrow, up straight this time.

Well, watching the tree butchers at work up on the hill, I decided it was worth a try to see if I could get them to come down here after work and cut some limbs out of the mango tree that I was in dire need of getting altered, as well as cutting down the Creole orange that is on the other side of the avocado tree, and badly crowding it. I hiked up the hill and asked, and one said, quietly, yeah, sure, he'd be by tomorrow to do the work.

The fellow must be hungry, because at the dot of half-past three, quitting time for ICE's crews, and as soon as they were out of sight, there he was on my doorstep, asking if I would like him to start. Of course, I said, feeling that this was too good an opportunity to pass up. So he went to work.

No tree surgeon this fellow. His sole implement of destruction was a two and a half foot, wide bladed machete, honed to razor sharpness. Without a ladder or safety belt, up in the tree he went, climbing limbs like a child, parking the machete as needed with a good, hard whack, and when he got to the limbs I wanted cut, he went to work. I asked him to cut some branches off of the first one before he cut the limb so that it would not pull the wire down that goes to my house from the power pole, but he didn't listen and went right to work on the limb itself, hacking away at it about two feet from the crotch. It was a big limb - six inches thick - and I was scared to death it would pull the wire down, as I knew from my roof work yesterday that the wire on the house end is secured only with a single roofing bolt. Before long, he had hacked his way through, and it came crashing, but not to the ground. Apparently, he had forseen that it would hang up in the avocado tree, and not put much pressure on the wire, and it didn't. With it cut and out of the way, he went up in the tree to cut the rest of the limbs I wanted out, and one at a time, they came crashing to the ground, usually with a little encouragement from well-placed blows from the machete. On the way back down, he hopped over into the avocado tree and chopped up the limb out of the mango tree he'd first cut, parking the machete as needed with well-placed blows that cut about a third of the way through the limbs of my precious avocado. Oh well, for the money, what could I expect?

With the mango tree suitably butchered, he went to work on the Creole orange. The trunk was too thick to cut with a machete, but about six feet up, it forked into two limbs, each about six inches thick, and he decided to cut them there, one limb at a time. I got my ladder for him, and he went to work.

Citrus wood can be quite hard, and Creole orange seems to be among the hardest of the citrus breeds. It took him more time to cut each of those two limbs than all the limbs in the mango. And when the first was proving stubborn, he asked me for a piece of rope. I got it for him, figuring what he was going to do. He climbed the tree, but tied it off only a couple of feet above the cut he was making.

Apparently, no one has ever explained to him the principle of leverage. We would tug and of course, the tree wouldn't budge. So I finally suggested that he tie the rope up as high as he could get it, and reluctantly he climbed up and did. Together, we tugged on it, and of course, down it came, crashing right in the middle of one of my circle gardens, thoroughly destroying some of the ginger growing there.

I am still not sure he made the leverage connection, because on the second limb, he tied it low again. This time when it came down, again after we had moved the rope up higher, he was leaning on it at the time, and lost his balance, and came to the ground in a controlled crash, landing in some of the branches of the mango tree he had previously cut, which broke his fall, so he was quite unhurt. Thank goodness!

I paid him - just under five dollars for two hours of hard, dangerous work - and showed him the two trees I need to get cut over in the water garden area. I asked him if he wanted to cut them for me tomorrow, reminding him that they are large - eight inches in diameter - and they are madera negra (black wood), a species that is known for its rock hard, chocolate-brown heartwood. I really think the man is desperate for the money - he thought about it a minute and said yes. If he tries cutting them down with his machete, he is in for a lot of hard work, that's for sure.

In any event, I paid him and sent him on his way, and went to work chopping up the branches on the ground, and hauling them off to the leaf litter pile. That was a big job, just to get the mango branches under control. It took two hours, chopping and hacking at the branches of that tree with my newly sharpened machete, eventually leaving the denuded limbs behind, like the discarded bones of a thanksgiving turkey. They're still out there because they are too big for me to handle alone, and will require the assistance of the gardener when he comes on Friday, to get them hauled to the leaf litter pile as well. By the time the mango branches were cut and hauled to the leaf litter pile, it was getting pretty dark, so I quit for the night, leaving the Creole orange for tomorrow.

During the hauling of all those mango branches, I got quite a bit of sap on my hands. Now, that ordinarily would just be a minor nuisance, but mango is a close relative of poison ivy, and people who are sensitive to poison ivy, generally should avoid contact with the sap of mango trees, as they will usually get a reaction to it. Indeed, one of my friends here carefully avoids mango trees, and refers to them as "those evil mango trees." Fortunately, poison ivy seems to fly under the radar of my immune system, in spite of my numerous contacts with it here and back in the States, and even with all that sap on my hands, they are only mildly irritated, mostly from just handling all that rough tree bark without gloves.

With that done, it was time to clean up, and with all that sap on my hands, I headed straight for the laundry room and washed up in the laundry tray. The sap didn't come off with soap, so I got out that good old Costa Rican All Purpose Fluid - diesel fuel. A bit of that, and a little rubbing, and my hands were clean. So all night, rather than smelling the pleasant, pine-like aroma of the mango sap, I'll be smelling diesel fuel instead, but at least my hands aren't sticky.

Tomorrow, it will be demolition of the Creole orange, which will be slow going, because it is full of vicious thorns. But at least there is a reward - the top of the tree has a bunch of nice oranges, just about perfectly ripe. So when work is done tomorrow, I'll have a nice glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice. Sure looking forward to that!

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 06:35:13 PM

Tue, Jun 29 2004

Well, They're Almost Plumb

Today the contractor for ICE came by and set poles. There are five that will probably end up with street lights on them, which will shine in my windows facing the street. That's five so far. There is no guarantee that the crew is done, not by any means, and it is still possible that they'll set poles in the other two holes they've dug. Sure hope that doesn't happen.

They set them using a method a bit different than I described yesterday. This time, they set the pole down and unchained it, and picked it up, chained in roughly the middle, with the bucket, running the chain over the backside of the bucket. That enables them to maneuver it up and down by tilting the bucket, and that gives them much finer control.

These are concrete poles, and they are hollow. So as a foundation, to keep them from sinking into the soil, they set a disk about three inches thick and about fifteen inches in diameter at the bottom of the hole, and then set the pole on that and backfill the hole, nudging the pole with the backhoe until it is vertical, or at least they think it is.

I was warned before I ever moved here that Latinos don't seem to know the meaning of the words "plumb," "level," "vertical," and "horizontal." I am beginning to believe this is true. While the walls of this house seem to be reasonably plumb, and in most cases things are not noticeably out of plumb or level, if you look carefully here or elsewhere, you will usually note that there are some problems that way.

Well, these guys were no better. They appear to be a crew composed of people from another country (probably Nicaraguan), certainly not Tico, but not that I have seen the Ticos to be that much better about it. It was interesting watching them adjust the plumb. The crew's supervisor checked plumb by sighting past a plum bob, which is fine, but he would do that standing in one place, usually next to the backhoe. Apparently it never occurred to him that doing it that way would ensure that it was plumb in the axis in which he is looking, but it can be tilted towards or away from him, and he would never notice it, so he needed to check plumb ninety degrees away from where he was first standing. So the three that I have watched him set have all ended up at least a half-degree or so out of plumb. One of them is noticeably out of plumb. Whether the ICE crew will straighten them up when they come by to hang hardware and wires, we'll have to see. But I'll be surprised.

This morning, I got out the ladder and cleaned the moss dams off of the south-facing watershed on the roof. It clearly had not been done for years, and was getting rather bad in a few places. I had done a few spots on it before during my first efforts to deal with the roof leaks, but had not given a good roof cleaning any serious effort until now. I wanted to see if cleaning the moss off the roof would fix that drip I have been hearing lately. I started at the east and and worked all the way to the west eave. In the process, I managed to get thoroughly sopping wet. I had been using the hose to wash the debris off of the roof, and on occasion, a fair amount of water would come washing down the corrugations in the roof in a rushing cascade. It would considerably overrun the raingutter and end up all over me, getting me miserably wet in the process. Not that it worries me a lot - in this climate, that isn't much of an issue. Most people around here carry on working whether it is raining on them or not. The rain just isn't cold enough to justify stopping work.

What I didn't think about, however, was that I had my cell phone in my pocket. And it got wet right along with the rest of me. I have had it slightly wet before, mostly as the result of sweat, and then it had seemed to be unaffected, so I wasn't immediately concerned, figuring that Motorola had done a bit of moisture-proofing in the design, but when I opened it up, the screen was blank, like the battery was dead. I tried turning it on, but no cigar - that didn't do anything, so now I am concerned that the phone may be damaged. I am going to try drying it thoroughly using a mild dry heat. I am going to sit it on top of my two-meter ham rig, which gets quite warm, almost hot, even while not in use. I am hoping that a thorough drying will do the trick, but I am not expecting that it will. One of the problems of these new ultra-miniaturized circuit boards are that they are extremely vulnerable to leakage paths - caused by moisture among other things. So simply drying it out thoroughly as I have done so many times before for my two-way radio customers, will probably not solve the problem. It was not without its problems even before this - it had a problem getting the charger to work when plugged in - I had to carefully jiggle the cord to get it to indicate the battery was charging. The battery is getting weak and won't hold a full charge anymore, and the #5 button is intermittent. There are also some annoying bugs in the firmware that the phone has had since day one, as well. All in all, I have been told to expect that Motorola phones around here seem to make it about a year, and this one is just under a year old - so I have pretty much gotten about all I should expect out of it anyway. But it was an expensive phone (I got one with a GPRS modem in it, hoping I could use it for internet access, but never managed to get that function working). So I grieve having to give it up after only a year. But I won't really know for a couple of days yet until after my efforts at drying it out.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 03:23:02 PM

Mon, Jun 28 2004

Power Line Hell

ICE's power line contractor was out yesterday, digging yet more holes for the power line that they are replacing here. They are also going to bring power to the squatter camp on the hill across the street from me, and that meant going up a servidumbre (private rural road) that cuts diagonally across the hillside, ending up at the top of the hill just about opposite my house.

That they were out working on Sunday was surprising enough, but what was really interesting was that they dug a posthole right smack dab in the middle of the cow pasture across the street from me. There is the possibility that this hole was dug at the request of the property owner who will need to string a new triplex power drop. But if it means that they are planning to feed my house by going half way up the hill and then cutting back down again, that would mean another pole there, and another street light.

I am going to end up with far more streetlights than I want. I know there will be at least four shining in my front windows, and there could be as many as seven - count 'em - seven, all within two hundred feet of my front door. If all of them got street lights, as they normally would in Costa Rica, my front yard would end up more brightly lit than a friggin' Wal Mart parking lot. Geez, that's the last thing I want. I came to the country to get away from that sort of nonsense.

We'll just have to see how many of them actually get street lights. Costa Ricans seem to have this passion for street lights, and so I wouldn't be a bit surprised if the whole lot of those poles ended up with street lights on them.

The crews set one pole just before sunset, and their method was interesting. They would chain up a pole on either side of the backhoe, one on each outrigger and the corresponding end of the blade. They would drive to the furthest hole where they were to set a pole, dropping off one pole at the second furthest, and maneuver the butt end of the remaining pole over the hole. They would then lower the pole to the ground, where the chain around the outrigger would be removed, and they would then raise the blade, raising the pole into position and sliding the butt end into the hole. Setting them this way, they got the one I watched set and ready to go in only ten minutes. To me, it looked like kind of a dangerous way to do it, though.

I got into the garden today, for the first time since Friday. It has been raining almost steady since then, and I didn't feel much like getting out there in it, so I didn't do much of anything over the weekend other than housework and laundry. I went on my usual tour of the garden noting what was going on. Some of my tropical lilies are in bloom, blossoms I have not seen before, huge, white and really exotic-looking, with long, stringy petals and green and orange stamens.

I noticed that the moss had started to re-grow on some of the trees where I had been cleaning it off, mostly where I hadn't got it all off before. So I got to thinking about it and realized that I had a wire brush that might get the trees a bit cleaner. Well, it worked out brilliantly, getting the tree trunks beautifully clean with remarkable speed, much faster than just pulling it off by hand. Glad I thought about it - it will make maintenance of those trees much faster.

In the process of cleaning one of the citrus trees, I disturbed an colony of carpenter ants. This time, I got out of the way in time, and didn't get any of them on me, so no damage was done to my corpus. This was yet another species I hadn't seen before. They are absolutely enormous - more than an inch long, and a charcoal grey color. And yes, like all other carpenter ants, they are equipped with a formidable set of jaws. Yet another ant species to watch out for.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 04:18:27 PM

Fri, Jun 25 2004

Plantains Are Here

My gardener showed up this morning with three plaintain roots that he bought from a Tico family down the street from me. Of course, I ended up paying the gringo price - 500 colones per root, 1500 total. But hey, it was still cheap enough. We selected some spots in the garden, and set the roots out, where he will plant them as soon as he is done with mowing the lawn. It is getting rather long again, and needs to be cut, especially around the trees where I have been fertilizing.

The Suriname cherry has made a good recovery from its fertility shortage, and is greening up nicely and is covered with green shoots. And the small avocado tree that was planted by the tenant is starting to green up too, but slowly, and I think it may take a while to recover. There are bright green rings in the lawn around the poincianas in front of the house, as well as the bougainvilleas, which are all showing some new growth spurts. Guess I am going to need to put a bit of fertilizer around on the grass to stimulate it a bit and hide those green rings. The poincianas are greening up nicely, too. They had gotten quite pale and were starting to lose leaves, and I was getting concerned that they may not make it. I am hoping that they will get a bit bushier and bloom a bit more prolifically than they have. They're not well suited to this climate (they thrived beautifully and grew much faster at my house in Phoenix, Arizona), so the weather here isn't as dry and hot as they like.

Last night, we had a real ripsnorter of a thunderstorm. It rained as hard as I have seen it here, and the rain was accompanied by a lot of lightning, some of which was uncomfortably close. I had the power to the house shut off, and the antennas to my ham radio gear disconnected for about two hours while it passed. By ten, it was pretty much over with, and I turned the power back on and went back to bed.

Today, it is cool and quite foggy. Fog like I haven't seen since I lived in Los Angeles Sur de San Ramon. I guess it is a common occurrence here during the rainy season, and I don't mind it once in a while, but in Los Angeles Sur, it got really old - day after day, after day, often without letup for, quite literally, weeks at a time. And here, it isn't as windy and cold, with the clammy dampness as in Los Angeles Sur. Sure do like the weather here a lot better. And I am awfully glad I decided not to move there.

My gardener brought me a well-aged coconut from one of his other customers' gardens last week, and I finally got up the ambition to open it up and eat it. It was still in the husk, so I had to open it with the machete. One really good whack and it was open, but with the knife firmly embedded in the shell. I finally had to find a protruding piece of metal to stick in there and twist it open. Once inside, I managed to break it in two, and spent the early morning eating bits of coconut, feeding some of them to the gardener, and watching the grass get cut. I don't envy the gardener out there in that weather, with the fog and constant drizzle, it must be a bit annoying to him, but he is bucking up to it and getting the work done. Glad to see it, the grass is in dire need of being cut and the garden badly needs to be raked.

As soon as he is done with the yard work, I think I am going to head to the ferreteria and start collecting the stuff I need to get the new electrical service built and installed. That will be the start of a big project, and I don't know how well it will work out. I will need some electrical fittings (condulets) that I am not sure I can get here. I may have to spend some time in Tilaran and Canas to find what I need.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 10:16:14 AM

Thu, Jun 24 2004

Power Line Construction Starts

Several days ago when I went to town, I noticed some power poles stacked up on the side of the road about three blocks from here. Quite a number of them, too. Must be thirty or forty, concrete poles, about 40 feet high. I have known since I moved here that they had plans to replace the power line in front of my house. They told me as much, when I went in and signed up for power service.

Well, the new line construction has started apparently, and today the crews were out digging the holes. And capacious holes they are, about five feet deep, just large enough to accommodate the poles, about a foot across. What surprised me is that they were all dug by hand, each one taking the Nicaraguans that were digging them, probably two or three hours each. Not much resting, either, these fellows really went at it. Of course, a post hole auger could have drilled them in about thirty seconds, but hey, when labor is so cheap, why not avoid the capital cost of the auger?

In any event, as I expected, the new power line will go down the street on the other side from me, which is good news - the power line that crosses through my front yard is going to go away. I am going to be really glad to have the power line out of my yard, particularly on the other side of the pond, where it cuts through the yard, thirty feet inside my property, and cuts off access to one of the trees I want to use as support for a ham radio antenna. They also have a streetlight on that pole, too, which makes no sense to me at all. It doesn't light the street, and only succeeds in illuminating the weeds and trees on my property - yet they have been very diligent about maintaining it.

I am reasonably certain that there are two reasons they are replacing the line. First, it cuts through a lot of private property, especially my yard. That makes access for maintenance difficult. Second, the high voltage consists of a single phase wire, with no neutral or ground. The high voltage return is obviously the earth. This means that if someone out here needs three-phase service, they're out of luck. And there are a small number of small businesses out here, and someday, someone is going to need three-phase power. Additionally, with no ground wire, the line is a sitting duck for lightning strikes, and it gets hit with some regularity - twice, just since I have lived here. That the transformer that feeds my house hasn't been blown up is really surprising to me.

But there is some bad news. I'll be surprised if I am anywhere close to the transformer, which means my voltage stability won't be improved much, if at all. More bad news - the lines, being on the other side of the street, mean that my service drop has to cross the street. Illegally high trucks (a common problem here) have the potential of pulling it down. And the nearest power pole, which will have the inevitable streetlight on it, will shine right in my bedroom window, right on the bed where I try to sleep. I hate that!

But probably the worst news of all is that I have to get cracking on getting my new service (meterbase, disconnect, housing, pole and service drop to the house) bought, assembled, installed and inspected before the ICE crews turn the power off on the existing line. I expect they'll have the line in and ready to go in about three weeks to a month, and they told me that they would not connect my existing service to the new line. I am going to take advantage of this to bury the triplex coming into the house, so I can reduce the problem of lightning surges to the extent that I can. Not that the buried drop will be long enough to really filter out the surges very well, but, hey, it will be better than what I have now, which is a twenty foot overhead drop that goes right to the power line. So I guess I had better get out my wallet. I am going to have to buy some tools, too, tools that already I have, but are inaccessible in storage. Tomorrow, I have to go to work on it. Not going to be fun - or cheap.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 04:17:57 PM

Wed, Jun 23 2004

Floor Mopping Day Again

Well, my feet have been getting sore again the last couple of days, so I decided that the time had come to mop the floor. As I wrote last week, the soles of my feet start to get sore and feel hot, similar to athlete's foot, when the floor needs to be mopped - for reasons I don't understand at all. Today the soreness was bad enough that I didn't want to postpone it any longer.

My mop head had been getting a bit ragged, and was starting to leave a lot of lint behind, so I needed to replace it, and not wanting another string mop head, I decided to use all the old socks that I'd been accumulating in my rag bag. Most of them are worn out boot socks that I got for wearing with my boots, and are knee-high, so placing them in the mop handle, they made a mop that is at least as long as the string mop. The new mop head worked out magnificently. Not only does it work better than the string mop, but it is easier to wring out, and leaves the floor much cleaner. Sure glad I decided to keep those old worn-out boot socks.

The sinus medicine worked out really well last night. I took one before I went to bed, and slept hard through the night, waking up quite well refreshed, and not a hint of sinus pain. I am glad I went to Tilaran to get the medicine.

The arthritis in my ankle is back, though not as bad as it has been in the last few days. I can walk without limping, but just barely. I am concerned that if the arthritis in the ankle continues to give me trouble, I may have to get out my wallet and go see a doctor. Fortunately, they're not all that expensive here, but still it is money I would rather not have to spend.

It has started to rain intermittently this evening, varying between tropical downpour and light mist. Typical rainy season weather pattern for Arenal (excuse me, the Tourism Ministry wants me to say "green season"). Sitting out in the rocking chair on the front porch this morning, I noticed a steady stream of tourist busses hauling tourists out to the boat dock that is operated by a local hotel, out on the lake about a half mile from here, presumably for a lake tour by boat. I was quite astounded - there must have been a hundred or more, and we just don't have tourists in those numbers this time of year. I have been hearing that the off-season (sorry, "green season") tourism has been up quite a bit this year, mostly tourists from Europe. I hear German being spoken more than English in the tourist venues these days, and it doesn't really surprise me. Dubya has got Americans so paranoid about terrorism and afraid to travel that the local tourist industry has more or less given up on the States and has taken to marketing more heavily in Europe these days, and their "green season" marketing in Europe seems to be paying off. I am hearing that the off-season visits to the Botanical Garden are almost as high as they were during the high season this year. Welcome news, as the main season this year was very poor due to the lack of American tourism. What few Americans there are seem to be coming in group tours. I suppose that makes them feel more protected (the herd principle, I suppose), but of course, that would make them more vulnerable - they are actually a more tempting target in large groups like that.

With the rains has come the travel problems that always happen in Costa Rica this time of year. The many gravel roads, of which the street in front of my house is one, often develop washouts where the gravel isn't deep enough to keep a vehicle from breaking through to churn up the underlying clay. That has happened on the hillside on the west of my property, where the public street goes up the steep hill towards town. The result has been that a mudhole has developed there, and it is growing every day, it seems, almost thirty feet long now, and a foot and a half deep in spots. This morning, the ICE power line inspection crew came by, and they tried going up that hill. Their big, dual-axle truck just barely made it, and then only after they backed down and got a good second run at it. In their attempt, that big, heavy truck dislodged some of the larger stones in the gravel street just downhill from the bad spot, churning up some of the clay underneath, and I am afraid that it will further aggravate that problem, probably doubling the bad section or more. There is no evidence that the municipality has been out to do maintenance on that road for many years, so it will probably just get worse with time. I expect by the end of the rains, it will become impassible, even to four wheel drive. I have another way up the hill to town, of course, so I can still make it to town when I need to go, but I am concerned that the access problem will remain unresolved. Not a big deal for now, but it could become one if the other route out gets blocked - and it has a small bad spot itself that could easily grow into a problem. Just one more thing to worry about.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 07:01:06 PM

Tue, Jun 22 2004

Raging Sinus Headache

Last night, I spent an awful night, sleeping very little because of a raging sinus headache. I awoke about midnight, with a throbbing pain around the socket of my right eye, and I noticed that the bridge of my nose near that eye socket was very sensitive. Anytime I tried resting on my right side, the pain increased substantially. By three in the morning, my sinuses opened and started to drain a bit, and the pain eased, and by four, I was able to sleep a bit. I had no medicine for this, and was quite unprepared to deal with it, even though I have had sinus headaches from time to time in the past. I concluded that a trip to the nearest farmacia (pharmacy), in Tilaran, was in order, first thing in the morning.

I have had occasional bouts of sinusitis since I moved here, when the mold spores were abundant, and my allergies were unusually active, mostly during those long, cold periods of rain and wind back in Los Angeles Sur. But it has been years since I had experienced anything like this. So as soon as I was up and about, and had finished with breakfast and gathered in the last of the laundry from the line - it was finally dry after two days - it was off to Tilaran, for sinus medicine and a couple of other things I needed to do there as well.

On driving through town, I discovered that the road crews are out, cutting out the potholes, and preparing to patch the road. Great news! There was the usual sign that the lane ahead would be closed, and when I got past all the square holes to the crew, there they were, with a pavement saw, cutting all the broken edges out. Incredible! Hadn't expected to see that, given the gossip I had heard in town about the reason why the potholes had gone unrepaired for so long. Maybe the fact that this road had been the subject of a series of letters to the editor of a national news service, from recently departed tourists, might have had something to do with it. The government in this country is very sensitive to tourism related issues - it is by far the largest earner of foreign exchange in this country. In any event, there is a short stretch of road in town that sports brand new patches, and the rest of the main drag through town has had all the potholes cut out, and today the crews were working on cutting out the potholes on the road around the lake from Arenal towards Tilaran. Well, before one gets the idea that this infamous road will actually be completely fixed, I hate to disappoint. As soon as I got the the turnoff to Gabanga, about a mile west of town, I saw the disappointing sign I had feared - fin de construcion - end of construction. Well, it was a nice dream. Two kilometers down, thirty two to go. Since La Fortuna, a larger town, is about the same distance away, I may start doing my shopping there if the road to Tilaran continues to deteriorate without any more attention being paid to it than that. La Fortuna has the advantage of a large gringo population, too - meaning that it may offer better shopping for me anyway.

Rattling and crashing my way to Tilaran took the usual hour, given the increasing number of potholes brought on by the recent rains, that are going unrepaired. That stretch, if properly repaired, would only take about half to a third that time to navigate, but other than here in Arenal, not much is being done to solve the problem. I noticed a crew from one of the many hotels that line that road was out filling in potholes in front of their hotel with road base. Well, during the current rainy season, that'll be good for about two weeks.

My first stop in Tilaran was to be the Dos Pinos co-op, to pick up some abono (fertilizer) that I have been needing and that my gardener has been bugging me to get for him to use around the place. It took some time to find the co-op, based on his rather general map. I found the building easily enough, but couldn't find the entrance. Turns out it was down a narrow, inconspicuous dirt road, and once I found it, I pulled up to the loading dock and went in to the office to buy my abono. They had exactly what I was looking for, as promised by my gardener, and it was blessedly cheap, too - fifteen times the quantity for about four times the money I had paid in the local shop in Arenal. I ended up loading 90 kilos - about thirty dollars' worth - in the back of the Dodge and headed on out to the farmacia.

I had forgotten the name of the place, and exactly where it was located, but managed to finally find it, a block east of the supermarket. The place is a pretty good one - as good as I have found in the country - and they had a choice of two versions of Sinutabs - "con sueno," and "sin sueno." Well, sueno means sleep, and it was sleep I was ultimately hoping to achieve, so I got the former - "with sleep." Sure hope it does the job for me.

A quick stop at the supermarket for some groceries I can't get in Arenal, and it was back to an hour on that bone-rattling road back to Arenal.

Once back at the house, I got the groceries put away and went to work spreading the fertilizer on the spots that needed it. I used the bottom half of two-liter soda bottle for a spreader, as it was all I could turn up quickly. I found that a flick of the wrist spread the fertilizer around in a nice circular, relatively even pattern. I got all my bananas fertilized, along with the pejibaye palm, the small avocado tree, a bit extra for the little lime tree I have, and the bougainvilleas out front. I hope that does it for now. I used about six liters of my brand-new Columbian-made fertilizer for all that and didn't even make a dent in my supply. I am sure that the gardener will use a lot more when he gets here on Friday - there are lots of things around here that need a little abono.

By now, I was getting tired, and it was siesta time, so I laid down for a nap, and woke up with another sinus headache, this one minor, but on the other side of my face. At least if it happens again tonight, I'll be a bit better prepared.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 04:50:56 PM

Sun, Jun 20 2004

Been A While

It has been a while since I did a blog entry, and I am clearly long overdue. Not much has been happening, but here is a blog entry nevertheless.

I have been getting some yard work done, particularly in the area that is going to become the water garden, that deals with runoff from the street. Thursday night, we had a real gully-washer, and I took advantage of that to go out and have a look at the amount of water I am going to have to deal with coming in from the street. I was quite surprised at the amount of it. Without actually building a weir to measure it, I have made some measurements that enable me to estimate the peak flow rate to be on the order of 20 cubic feet per second. That's basically the runoff from a stretch of street about a block long. So you can see that it is a significant volume of water. And that wasn't even the worst of the storms that occur here.

Given that volume of water, I was surprised that the erosion problem isn't worse than it is, but I am a bit alarmed at its potential for rapid, uncontrollable progression. I really need to deal with the erosion problem in my plans for diverting the runoff and controlling the flow. And I need to do it sooner rather than later - there is significant erosion already, and it has the potential of causing some serious problems if left unattended through the remainder of the rainy season.

I did some digging where I am planning to put the plantains that I am looking to acquire, and the soil there is incredibly rocky. It may be a good source of the rocks I need for my retaining wall, so I may just start a slow-moving project of digging up rocks there, and replacing them with soil, using the very rich soil that I don't need from where the water garden will be going in. That will solve two problems at once.

The other slow-moving project I have been working on for the last few days is to move the vast volume of leaf mould from where the tenant had been discarding the yard waste, and getting it put in a hole he had dug for composting. I am not going to actually compost it - it is adequately decomposed the way it is, but just store it there and use it when I need it for various plantings. I used some of it to plant some gardenias last week, that had sprouted from cuttings discarded in the leaf litter pile, and they are doing very well - not a hint of transplant shock, and one of them is even starting to bloom. The gardenias that I didn't think would do much here are doing fabulously well now that we are in the rainy season. The gardenia outside my office window is covered with fragrant white blossoms. I sure like that plant, with its wonderful fragrance that often fills the house. Glad they do well here.

Last week, I also tried an experiment with the bougainvillea propagation project I have undertaken. I tried rooting some cuttings in the leaf mould, with a thin layer of soil on the top to preserve the moisture. That seems to have worked really well - those cuttings are doing much better than the ones I planted in soil, and I expect I'll use this method from here on out. Should save me having to do a bunch of re-starts. I need to get busy with that - I need to do several re-starts, and also start four more. I have been using the little quarter-liter containers that sweet cream comes in here, and I use sweet cream for my tea, and so I have a good, steady supply. I have lots of time to accumulate them - my gardener tells me not try transplanting bougainvillea until the onset of the dry season. Otherwise, root fungus will get them, he says.

I cut down another bunch of bananas today, and hung it up in the kitchen to ripen - I have two bunches left, still growing in the garden, but several other plants that look like they are about ready to bloom. My largest banana plant, with a really large bunch, was ready to have its flower bud cut off, so I got out the ladder and went out there to do the deed. I sharpened the machete, climbed up to where I could reach the flowerstalk with it, and gave it a good whack.

The good news was that the blow was right on target on the first try - off came the six-inch long flower bud, tumbling to the ground. The bad news was the sap. I had been warned that the sap will stain clothes badly, so I had planned my blow so that the sap dribbling out would not get on my shirt. But I hadn't paid any attention to the large banana leaves of a daughter plant just below, and that's the bad news - the sap started dribbling out in it, and it splashed all over my shirt before I knew what was happening. I won't know till I wash it whether it is seriously stained, but it doesn't look all that bad at the moment, so maybe what I heard isn't all that true.

When my gardener showed up on Friday, as he promised last week, he brought with him three sprouting coconuts from the yard waste heap of one of his other customers. Two are the same variety I already have, but the third is the yellow-fruited variety that is supposedly much better for coconut meat. We selected some locations in the garden and planted them, and I expect I will soon have lots of waving palm fronds in the garden. He tells me that I can expect coconuts in about two years from the green variety I already have, and about four from the yellow. As I write this, I am sipping on a pipa, a coconut grown for the liquid inside. I harvested one from the only tree I have that is currently old enough to produce. Most Ticos just take a machete and whack a hole in the side, often spilling a good deal of the contents, but my machete isn't adequately sharp for that, and I am sufficiently clumsy that it makes me nervous working on them that way. So I used a pocket knife to cut a small hole through the husk and then drill a hole through the shell. A quick poke with a straw, and I was ready to enjoy the liquid. This is a common treat in this country, and one that is widely enjoyed by children and adults alike. Street vendors are often seen selling them in the streets, straw in the hole and ready to sip, at a cost of 300 colones, about 60 cents.

On my morning tour of the garden today, I noticed that the one single, lonely fruit growing on the mystery citrus tree that was planted by the tenant, was blushed with yellow and was developing some black spots, so I figured the time had come to harvest it and see what it was. Turns out it is a Bearss lime, and the fruit was perfectly ripe and juicy without a single seed, so I enjoyed a wonderful glass of limeade. First limeade I have had since I have been in the country, and I sure did enjoy it! I am hoping that I can get the tree growing a bit better - it is in a really bad location - and I would like to get some watershoots coming on, so I can do some bud grafting onto some Creole orange shoots and propagate this variety on a more vigorous and robust rootstock. It is a wonderful fruit, very tasty, and if I can get them to flourish, they'll be a welcome addition to the Creole orange I have so much of. It seems that limes do better in tropical climates than just about any other common citrus, with the possible exception of calamondin, so I expect they will be easier to get growing here than about any other citrus I can grow. I would still like to find a source for calamondin and maybe some Mexican limes, too. My efforts on the Internet to find them have not yet produced results. They're extremely popular in the Phillipines, where they're called Phillipine lemon or Panama lemons. But in Panama, I never saw any, and I was looking for them, too. So my search will continue.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 10:10:40 AM

Tue, Jun 15 2004

Defenders Of The Trees

Today was another day that was ideal for gardening. So I went out, right after breakfast, and got started. A little cleanup in the water garden area, and on to other matters. I found a couple of windfall Creole oranges on the ground, and a couple more that were ripe and about to fall, so I picked them and took them into the house and squeezed them to juice, so I could have a taste of this citrus and see what it is like. It was the first I had a chance to try, and it gave me a clue as to the parentage of these trees. It has a bit of lemony taste to it, but is mostly orange and mandarin, so I am guessing that the trees are about half lemon and a quarter each of some variety of orange and some variety of mandarin. It is the only variety of citrus I have seen that really does well here, though I would really like to get my hands on an ugli and give it a try. Uglis are native to Jamaica, a climate not a lot terribly different than this one, so they ought to do well here.

Back out in the garden, I had a look at some of the bananas that I have planted in various places, and most seem to be doing well. One of the banana roots I had planted, but given up on, has sent up a new shoot, so it is clearly alive and doing fine, much to my surprise and delight. It had done nothing for a long time and both the gardener and I figured it was dead. One of the other bananas that I had thought was going to do well, seems to have suddenly wilted. I expect that something subterranean has done it in, and it probably will have to be replaced. Not a problem, I have lots of starts of various sizes in the water garden area that are going to have to be moved. So even if it dies, it will quickly get replaced. And I am supposed to be getting some plantains in the next few days, so when they are available, I will need a spot for them anyway. I have several locations in mind, but not enough, so I may have to take out some ginger or hibiscus to make room. But I digress.

I noticed that some of the branches from one of the mango trees was pulling down the electric power "triplex" feeding the house, so I got out the ladder and the machete, and went to work. I got one of the offending branches cut down, but there are branches hanging down from a limb that I can't reach from the ladder that are even more of a problem. They are laying right on the wire, and pulling on it a bit. I really need to get them brought down - in a storm, they could pull the electrical wire off of the house. It is growing from the same limb that is going to have to come down to make room for the avocado tree, so the sooner I can get that work done, the better. The tree surgery I need to get done has gone beyond just being needed, and is up to urgent status now.

While up in the tree, I took the opportunity to pull down a bunch of giant bromeliads and clean up some of the moss on the mango tree, and hack down a few branches that will cause problems in the future if left to their own devices. And once done with that, I had a look at the Creole orange trees, figuring that as long as I had the ladder and machete in the garden, I had just as well clean them up a bit. I got two trees cleaned off as well as I could, and went to work on a third, which is the first one I cleaned up, at least a bit, when I first moved here. It is a mature, but not terribly old tree, near the house, and is only about fifteen feet high, since at some point, someone had cut off the limbs and allowed it to re-sprout. It has done that vigorously, putting out lots of water-shoots with enormous thorns, as much as four inches long, and, of course, everywhere I needed to work. This Creole orange is the thorniest citrus I have ever seen.

That tree had a considerable epiphyte burden high up in the remnants of the limbs - the ladder was required to get up to the worst of it. It clearly hadn't been cleaned off in quite some time, if ever, and the moss was a couple of inches thick in spots, and the lianas were interlaced through it so thoroughly that it came off in big sheets, some of which were so dense with liana and bromeliad roots that gave it an almost leather-like stiffness. Where the giant bromeliads had been growing for some time, the bark of the tree was scarred and burling into the roots, and it made the moss, lianas and roots difficult to remove. I had to work at it quite a bit.

Having gotten most all of the epiphyte burden off of it, I set the ladder next to the trunk and climbed up high to get to the highest part of the trunk to remove the rotting remains of a long-dead giant bromeliad. I reached up, gave it a good tug, and off it came, with a good chunk of the limb on which it had been growing.

Unknown to me, there was a carpenter ant nest in the rotting remnant of that limb. And of course, as soon as I disturbed it, out they came, demanding to know what my business was, and quite determined, and equally well equipped, to defend their home. These were a new species to me, the third species of carpenter ants I have seen in this country - large, three-quarters of an inch long, with brown bodies and a large, fierce-looking black head. And they are remarkably fast. They were moving so quickly, that up close as I was on the top of the ladder, I could not follow their movements.

Well, of course, the inevitable happened. Pieces of the nest fell onto the ladder, and in seconds, the ants were all over me. Since I was working in a T-shirt with no gloves, I was soon covered with angry carpenter ants, well equipped to signal their displeasure and well motivated to do so. I beat a hasty retreat off of the ladder, and onto the lawn, and quickly brushed off as many as I could find. They were trying hard to bite me though the T-shirt, and those could not be brushed off - they were caught in the T-shirt by their mouthparts, much like a fish gets caught in a gillnet. I scrambled madly to get them off of me as quickly as possible. I got nailed a half-dozen times in the process.

I decided to leave the tree alone and not try to remove the nest, as it is clear that doing so could be a painful experience indeed. Fortunately, it is essentially clean now, except for the that one dead bromeliad root, still attached to the short chunk of dead limb and still hanging there by a short length of dead liana. It is going to get left there. I have no desire to get up there and try to get it down. There are still far too many defenders of the tree dashing around, walking all the way out to the very end of each thorn, looking for me, and then on to the next one, and out to the end of it. They are looking in vain. I am in the house literally licking my wounds.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 03:34:13 PM

Mon, Jun 14 2004

Classic Rainy Season Weather

As I write this at two thirty in the afternoon, it is clouding over in preparation for the usual afternoon rains, after a truly delightful, if somewhat warm morning. The last two days have been unusually warm, and in looking at the satellite infrared loop, it is clear that the dry, warm air we are experiencing is coming out of the Caribbean, where the weather is hot and dry at the moment. The morning was bright and sunny, and I spent it in the garden, working on getting the area ready where I am going to build the water garden. I have pretty much finished cleaning all the junk out of there - this morning's haul was the rusted remains of an old bed frame - and it is now ready to start hacking down the jungle that is growing back there. I did cut down a small datura tree, and hauled it off to the leaf litter pile. I am going to start hauling the remains of the compost heap away that the tenant left behind, and get that area cleaned up and ready for the first phase of the construction.

I have decided that the best and probably the easiest way to deal with the runoff from the street is to cut a ditch along the side of the ravine - I'll have to build a low retaining wall to keep it in place - and then allow the water to run out through the grove of giant ginger and into the marsh on the edge of the pond at the foot of the bank. The ginger will hold the hill and keep it from eroding, and the marsh will hopefully filter the suspended clay from the water and trap it where it can actually do me some good - it can fill in a low spot that is too marshy and wet to be of any value right now. There is a good chance it can do that, as the marsh is about twenty feet wide at that point. And if it keeps the clay out of the pond, then it should improve the water quality considerably, as well as improve the water circulation through the marsh, which is excessively stagnant right now.

In looking over the area near the mouth of the ravine, I noticed another spring that has appeared - an intermittent spring, to be sure, doubtless present only during the rainy season, but it is right at the edge of the pond and it is full of leaves, which are rotting and causing a pollution problem with the oils they are releasing. There is clearly a lot of work to do to clean up the edge of the pond. I'll need to clean the leaves out and dig it out and plant some water lilies there to keep it clean.

The power is back on again. Today it was off for a couple of hours, and was off yesterday from about three thirty on into the evening - coming back on about six thirty when it was thoroughly dark. Once the sky was dark last night, there were several people in town shining lspotights on the low cloud layer, lighting a spot in the clouds intermittently. Originally, I figured it was ICE working in the night, trying to get the lines fixed, but it turns out that it was really just people playing around with vehicle-mounted spot beams.

I am sitting here watching a small, black butterfly trying to get out of the screened window in my office. It was probably attracted by the fragrance of the gardenias growing right outside my window, but I don't know how it got in, unless it was through a small slit in the screen. It is beautiful to watch, as it is black with white spots on its wings. The wing shape is like a swallowtail, but I don't recall having seen this kind of butterfly before. There are so many different kinds here, it is common to see one you haven't seen before, and this one is no exception. This morning, I saw one that was international orange in color - looked like a refugee from a construction site. I have never seen one like that one either.

Yesterday, I got the new email filters that my web hosting provider is offering. I also got rid of my webmaster email address, which was being relentlessly spammed, and created a whole new mailbox, just for the response form on my web site. If/when that address is found by the spammers, I'll just change it again - it is easy to do. I am really impressed at the difference this has made to the cleanliness of my inbox - I have gone from about 100 spams per day, using the old filters, to only two with the new one. It was so long before I saw anything in my inbox that I figured that the account had somehow been disabled, but testing showed it was working fine. So I am delighted at how much better my inbox is.

Well, time to shut down. I just heard the first peal of thunder of the afternoon thunderstorms, and it is starting to rain. I'll have to upload this entry a bit later.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 02:16:31 PM

Sun, Jun 13 2004

Sore Feet Mystery

Yesterday was clean-the-house day. It had been some time since I had really cleaned the place up, and it was starting to show. The floor, especially, was getting rather bad.

But there is another way that I know when the floor at least needs to be mopped. The soles of my feet get sore. Don't ask me why - I haven't a clue. But when the floor is dirty, walking around on it in my bare feet, or even in my socks, leaves my feet feeling like I have a mild case of athlete's foot.

There must be something in the soil here that does that. I don't really have any idea what it would be, but I do know that when my feet start feeling that way, it is time to mop the floor. And when I do, within hours, my feet start feeling better. And they will for a week or more, until the soreness gradually comes back until I mop the floor again.

My feet had been telling me for a week or so that it was time to mop the floor, so I did, and got the place all spic and span. And, as usual, by the end of the day, my feet quit feeling sore. It's a mystery to me. I never experienced this in Los Angeles Sur, and I suspect it may be something in the volcanic soil.

I was up most of the night, probably due to the fact that I had some Coke with dinner last night, something I really shouldn't do, and know better. But from midnight to after four, I was up surfing the net, getting caught up on some of the web sites I like to visit, and learn about what has been going on in the States since I left. The picture that is emerging is certainly getting bleak, and makes me more glad than ever that I voted with my feet. Apparently, White House insiders are talking, anonymously and off the record, of course, saying that Dubya thinks he's on a mission from God, and that he can do anything he likes, legal or not, because "God is riding shotgun" -yes, apparently, he actually used that language! He even talks about how God told him to do this, or God told him to do that! Of course, when ordinary people start talking like that, they get locked up. Dubya, well, he gets the keys to the insane asylum, as well as a big red button to push. Talk about hubris and delusions of grandeur! I am beginning to wonder if all that alcohol and cocaine abuse decades ago has damaged his brain. Geez, the world is in trouble! I sure hope the Americans have the good sense to get rid of that man this fall.

Enough ranting. Coffee mug in hand, I went out for a tour of the garden this morning. I noticed that the termites have completely rebuilt their tunnels on the Creole orange I have been trying to treat. But they haven't built any trails on the area oil-stained by the diesel fuel I originally used to poison their nest. So my next approach will be to destroy their trails and then stain the trunk with diesel fuel. We'll see if that does it.

I also noticed that there is a gardenia sprouting in the compost heap that the tenant left behind. It even has a flower bud on it. So I think I will transplant it once I find a good spot. This garden, as big as it is, is getting rather crowded and I really need to clear out some spots. It is apparent that the garden just grew willy-nilly with no overall plan, and I am seriously considering redesigning it to both improve the appearance, as well as make room for some other things that I would like to grow here. I need a cecropia tree and an Anona reticulata, both for their herbal value as well as the latter for its fruit, and there are several other fruit trees I would like that I don't have. The largest fruit tree I am looking to plant is a yellow coconut palm for which my gardener says he can get a seedling. He says there are two growing in the compost heap of one of his other customers.

It is really hot this morning. I mean, not just warm, but downright hot. This is very unusual for this time of year - usually, it is a bit on the chilly side if anything, but not at the moment. We are between rainy periods, apparently, and this high pressure has brought unusually warm weather. I don't have a thermometer, but it has to be at least 80 and it isn't even ten in the morning. Don't know what it is with this unusually warm weather, maybe an early sign of global warming. They're saying that much of the tropics could become uninhabitable by the end of the century if some of the predictions that have been made are borne out. Some are saying that Antarctica could end up being the only habitable place on the planet if some of those predictions come true. Scary indeed!

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 08:24:34 AM

Fri, Jun 11 2004

Resolution To The Dilemma

Yesterday afternoon, we had a thunderstorm here. It didn't produce a whole lot of rain, but there was a lot of lightning and thunder associated with it. So being rather cautious about my computer and ham radios, I disconnected everything and pulled the main switch on the house, so if the lines got hit, the surge wouldn't ruin anything. It lasted for quite a long time - several hours - but the lightning didn't get particularly close. So it was probably a wasted effort, but at least I was certain that I wouldn't lose anything.

I discussed with my gardener this morning, the problem of the avocado tree that is planted too close to the mango. We looked it over carefully, and it appears that the best solution is to do some open-heart surgery on the mango. He can't do the work himself, but he said he will look around for a tree surgeon who can. We have arrived at a plan that will not cause the mango to look too bizarre - we'll cut out most of the limbs inside the mango, so that the mango has room to grow, but the outside limbs will pretty much remain in place, so the mango tree will look relatively normal. It will make harvesting the avocados a bit difficult, but he tells me I'll end up with far more than I can ever use anyway. He tells me that the tree was extremely productive when it was younger and less crowded. Avocados remain productive throughout their lives, he says, and (along with a little fertilizer) just freeing it up so isn't using all its energy fighting for survival will bring it back into production. They'll be all over the yard, he tells me, attracting the neighborhood stray dogs, coati-mundis and armadillos, all of whom really go for them. I am also told to expect problems with the toucans - they love them too, and I can expect to see them up in the tree going after them occasionally. But it will be nice to have more avocados than I know what to do with. Maybe, if I am lucky, I'll end up with a whole bunch of guacamole dip in the freezer, particularly if there are any Creole oranges on the trees but not yet ripe when the avocados are on. Green Creole oranges are a fairly good substitute for lemons in most things, I've found.

The gardener is out there cutting the grass, today, too. All the rain lately has had the grass growing like mad, and has been producing a bumper crop of mosquitos and blackflies along with it, so I asked him last week to start cutting it every other week through the end of the rains. He tells me that most of his other customers have done the same thing. Last week he thinned out the palmes multiples, a variety of palm that I have growing here. It grows multiple trunks (hence the Spanish name) in a thick clump, and if not thinned out, the thicket becomes so dense that it harbors a lot of mosquito growth as well. He told me that the mosquito problem would go down quite a bit once the palms were thinned out, and indeed it has.

He has also advised me that one of his other customers has some plantain starts - three of them - that he has agreed to sell me. But he says he has to wait for the full moon (or new moon, I am not sure which) before he can transplant them, because the seller is very superstitious about that, as many Ticos are. So it will be a while before the plantains go in. Not a problem, it will be the better part of a year before they are producing anyway. The plants are almost indistinguishable from banana plants, but tend to grow a bit bigger. So I need to look for a place to put them.

Meanwhile, all of my transplanted bananas are doing well, and I expect them to be adding fairly soon to that lush tropical look that I so dearly love around the garden. The large Monstera plant that I planted two weeks ago next to the mango tree down by the pond is doing really well, and I see it is already starting to grow and put out a new, giant leaf. The other stem cuttings from that Monstera that I have planted are still alive, but have not shown any evidence of growth yet. It may be some time, if ever, that they do anything.

Today is Friday, and that means market day. I got a call from one of the business owners downtown, the wife of the man who sold me this house, and she says that The Tico Times is here. I need to get to town and get a copy before they are all sold out. It is has been a couple of weeks since I have read the paper, and I need to get a copy of La Nacion along with it, so I can get all the news, not just what the Times has chosen to print. I need to do some grocery shopping, though not much, fortunately, and get some cash to pay the gardener. He told me last week that he wants to be paid this week. He bought a new(er) car recently, and is car-poor, so I am sure he can use the money.

Speaking of using money, today ended up being Rush To Tilaran And Buy Another Modem day. I was online this afternoon, during a light rain, but nothing usual, when it happened. No thunder or lightning in evidence, so I figured it was safe to be online, but boy, was I wrong! About three in the afternoon, I heard a snap in my ham rig power supply, followed a half-second later by a loud boom. The power and phone lines got hit by lightning. I immediately shut down and disconnected everything.

When I powered it back up, everything worked fine, except that the modem would not recognize a dial tone. Even when I had the phone off-hook, and knew that the phone line was siezed, the modem would claim it couldn't hear dial tone, so I knew the modem was fried.

It was still early enough to make it to Tilaran so I could get a modem and at least not have to be offline all weekend, so I hurried over to a friend's business to see if she had a modem I could buy and she didn't, which I figured would probably be the case, so I got in the car and headed to Tilaran. I knew I didn't have enough cash to buy anything, but I wanted to be sure and get there before the computer shop closed, and I made it just in time. I had them hold the place open for me while I went to the ATM and drew out enough cash to buy the modem.

Well, I have had problems with the ATMs in this country before, and today was going to be my day, too. I tried twice putting the card in, but the machine wouldn't grab it and suck it in. Eventually, it did, and once I gave it my PIN, it simply told me what my account balance is. Didn't ask if I wanted cash. I said OK, and then it finally asked me if I wanted another transaction, and I said yes. This time, it allowed me to make a cash withdrawal, and fortunately, everything worked.

Back to the computer store. They didn't have an external modem in stock - only internal modems, but it turned out that the brother of the shop keeper had one he was willing to sell me. It was sold to him by a gringo who was moving back to the States. Ordinarily I wouldn't buy a used modem, but I was desperate, and asked if the shop keeper would guarantee it. She said she would. Not that I believed it, but I figured it was worth a try. Otherwise it would be a wait until Monday and a drive to Canas at least, and probably Liberia. So I bought it, and paid my money - about two thirds of list price - and was on my way.

Well, I lucked out, and it is working. You are reading this after it was uploaded to my site using that new modem. So I am back on the net - at least until the next lightning strike.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 08:26:38 AM

Wed, Jun 09 2004

Terrible Dilemma

This morning was another inviting morning to spend in the garden, so I did, as soon as breakfast was over and the dishes were done. I began by planting some things in one of the little circle gardens, that I had found in the planter boxes in front of the house. I have no idea what they are, but figured they were worth a try, so I put them where they can grow up a bit and flower and I can see what they are and if they are worth keeping.

Well, while out wandering around the garden, I noticed a tree I had never paid much attention to before, that bears a close resemblance to the small avocado tree that my gardener pointed out to me last Friday. As I was standing there, wondering, I heard a plopping sound, and looked down by my feet to see a small, stunted, scarred and barely recognizable smooth-skin avocado. Indeed it is an avocado tree - and the most desirable variety for this climate! And it is the only avocado tree I have that is large enough to bear fruit.

That is the good news. In looking the situation over to see what can be done to bring it back to health and stimulate some production, I determined that its main problem seems to be that it is being very badly crowded on both sides. It is planted only about five feet from a really big mango tree that has certainly been there since long before the avocado tree was planted. And about five feet away on the other side is a Creole orange. Why those trees were planted that close I will never understand, but the net result is that the avocado has little room to spread out, and is being overwhelmed by the mango that is probably twice its size, and can't spread out on the other side because of the orange tree. It also has to compete for root space with a nearby tree that is much larger and vigorous than it is.

This puts me in a terrible dilemma. The Creole orange is no big deal - I can cut it down and not lose any sleep over the loss of it. I have lots of them and this one isn't particularly attractive or productive, nor is it very large - just big enough to seriously crowd the avocado. The mango tree on the other hand, is a big and very beautiful tree - it would grieve me to have to remove it, or even butcher it up a bit to save the avocado. Carving it up to make room for the avocado would leave it rather radically lobsided and unattractive until the avocado fills in the space, since they both have limbs rather badly intertwined with each other.

Probably the best solution is to simply cut it down outright and let the avocado grow into its space. I would sure hate to lose that mango tree, the second largest on the property, and the centerpiece for the front yard that it is. And that would leave me with an enormous stump five feet across that would be a nuisance and a source of termites and carpenter ants for years to come. And like most, this mango has created a lot of surface roots, too, that would be there for years, sprouting small trees and getting in the way of cutting the lawn. I am willing to tolerate the roots when the tree is there, providing shade, beauty and occasionally fruit, but once is is gone, I'll want the roots to be gone too. It is not a particularly desirable mango variety, but the tree is quite productive, even in its off-years, and is one of the few in the yard that is. And it is so big that just cutting it down and getting rid of it will be an expensive proposition.

What to do, that is my dilemma. Before I make a decision, I am going to have to carefully contemplate the results. And I'll be discussing it with my gardener. Wish there were an easier answer. And I wish the idiot who planted the avocado in the first place had given the location a bit more care - and a bit more room. Then I wouldn't be facing this terrible dilemma.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 12:19:35 PM

Tue, Jun 08 2004

Plethora Of Bananas Coming

Not a whole lot on the agenda today. I got the taxes finally mailed yesterday, and that is out of my hair, so today I decided to relax a bit and do a bit of gardening, and get a bit of reading done.

Yesterday's trip to town had a lot on the agenda. I got a file so I could sharpen the machete, and now it cuts magnificently, though I still need to have my gardener show me how to use the file to sharpen it properly. It is still nowhere near as sharp as his. He can cut through a three-inch bamboo in two big chops, and it still takes me a half-dozen. There is a knack to sharpening the things, and I am going to have to learn it, clearly.

I also checked with the bank yesterday to see if they had paid my bills this month as promised, and indeed they had. Everything was paid up to date, so I can take off for a few days at a time and not worry about disconnections. The total of all my bills came to about $60 - that includes phone bill, cellular bill, water, and electrical.

I also got some abono (fertilizer) at the feed store yesterday, but was very disappointed that they didn't have the formulation that I wanted. I was also looking for about 20 kilograms, but they only had three two-kilo bags, so that ended up being something of a bust. I'll have to see what I can find in Tilaran on my next trip. What they had was rather dear, too, at about a buck and a half for a mere four pounds. I certainly can't fertilize my whole garden at that rate. I put it out where it was most critically needed, but we'll see if it makes much of a difference.

A quick trip to the grocery store refilled my fridge with the basics, including some more eggs and meat. I have decided that I really like the carniceria (butcher shop) here in this town. Plain old standard ground beef here in this carniceria is much better quality than what I could get in San Ramon, even paying premium prices there. It is a lot fresher, too. They grind it every morning, and it is so lean that I have to grease the pan to keep it from sticking when I fry it up. Great stuff!

Today, I spent a good deal of the day reading, but some time in the garden, too. I have an enormous banana plant that is fruiting at the moment, and the bunch is so big and heavy it is pulling the plant over. So I had to get some twine and brace it - not easy, as those plants are really big and heavy. The bananas it is producing are the standard size seen in American markets, and the bunch is a full-size bunch. All of those bananas are going to ripen at the same time, and I haven't a clue as to what I am going to do with all of them. Since I have a Champion juicer now, I could, and probably will make banana "ice cream" with them, and store it away..

I spent a bit of time thinning out my Burmese orchids today. They were getting rather leggy and overgrown, and needed some attention, so I cut down the canes that had already bloomed and were turning grey. I don't quite know what to do with them - they are growing in a spot all by themselves, with nothing around them, and they are rather leggy and unattractive when not in bloom. The blossoms are spectacular, but only for the week or so that they are in bloom. I think I am going to plant them in a garden with some other stuff in front, to hide the legginess a bit.

The monstera that I planted at the base of one of the mango trees is taking off and doing well. It is already putting out a new leaf. I guess cutting its roots off and planting the top two feet of the vine didn't hardly even slow it down.

I found a species of philodendron growing wild on a fencepost in my back yard, and it is a species that is quite new to me. I have never seen a philodendron quite like it. It is quite attractive, with a white and purple flower and small, oval leaves similar to a "rubber tree" fig, but a bit smaller. I am going to carefully protect it, and once it is big enough, plant it on the other side of the big mango tree from where the monstera got planted. It should make a nice contrast to it, too. Especially if it continues to bloom like it is doing - the blossoms are not really big, but they are quite showy.

I've been thinking that that particular mango tree would make a delightful place to hang a swing. And I think I'll do that, if I can find one to hang up there. May have to build it. But it would be a delightful place to sit and just swing - a shady place with a nice view of the pond, and next to the snakeroot and giant ginger, too.

I spent some time online to see if I could identify some of the cichlid fish in my pond. I found a database that allows me to create an entire species list of freshwater fish in Costa Rica. I copied it to an Excel file, so I now have a wonderful database to refer to offline, with links to an online library that has significant data for each species. I think I have identified one of the species in my pond as the "moga" - a small food-fish used by the natives but not considered a prime game fish species. I also know for certain that I have the famous Costa Rican sport fish, the guapote (Parachromis dovii), known in the aquarium trade as the Wolf Cichlid, in the pond, too. I have seen one that was at least a foot and a half long swimming out just beyond the end of the dock. The database says that they are considered by behaviorists as the most intelligent of all freshwater fish. They are apparently much prized by the few fortunate aquarists who possess a tank large enough to keep one - 175 gallons minimum - one fish to a tank.

I also discovered this afternoon that the termites are back in the Creole orange tree I have been trying to save. I guess I will have to talk this problem over with my gardener and find out what to do to solve that permanently. If he doesn't have any suggestions, my next line of attack is going to be to spray some diesel fuel on the bark of the tree. The termites seem to be avoiding the trunk wherever the bark was stained by the oil I put on their nest. This is one time I would welcome the woodpeckers to come by and feast on my termites. They would be welcome to all they can find. And then some.

There is some fresh evidence of the leafcutter ants in the big Creole oranges along my fence line - not anywhere near as numerous as before, however. I got out the Omitox pellets and put them on their trail, but they didn't seem to be too eager to pick it up and carry it back. We'll see if they eventually do. I suspect it may be the same nest that I originally tried the Omitox on, and they may have learned to avoid the stuff - I have heard that they will learn to avoid things that kill their fungus. The two other colonies I have tried killing with the stuff seem to have been truly killed. No evidence of either of them coming back. Good riddance, as far as I am concerned. They're fascinating to watch, but they sure are destructive little buggers.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 04:11:50 PM

Sun, Jun 06 2004

Some Thoughts On The Death Of Ronald Reagan

All day long, the BBC and CNN have been running various comments made by the famous (and occasionally, the infamous) regarding the death of Ronald Reagan. Having lived through the man's administration and watched the whitewashing that has gone on regarding the results of his administration, both historically and during the present memorialization, I have to protest. If we are going to remember the man's legacy, let's remember the more important aspects of it, those that have actually affected our lives, not just the touchy-feely "great communicator" stuff. I originally considered writing a new front-page editorial to discuss his true legacy, but I decided that too many people would consider it to be in bad taste. So I decided to bare my feelings -and my anger - in this blog entry, and state, for the record, what he really left behind. To wit:

--- The Iran-Contra affair. If ever an American president deserved impeachment for contempt of the law and disregard of the constitution, Reagan deserved it for this. Not content just to do an end-run around Congress, he knowingly and deliberately violated the laws and the constitution, as well as disregarded the will of the American people, to support the Contras. His denials of knowledge under oath before congress, of what happened were and remain simply implausible. Certainly a more impeachable offense than "having sex with that woman" and lying about it.

--- The Iran Hostage Crisis was deliberately manipulated by Reagan for his political benefit. It is now well known that he cut a deal with the Iranians to not free the American embassy hostages until after the inaguration, in return for which, he would sell them arms - so he could benefit politically by the pall that the crisis cast over the Carter administration. And the arms part of the deal eventually became a major component of the Iran-Contra scandal. His callous and cynical disregard for the welfare of the hostages was a prelude of what was to come on other policies he would eventually implement, many of them by executive order rather than congressional mandate.

--- We may well not have an AIDS epidemic today, were it not for Reagan's homophobia. As documented by Randy Shilts in "And the Band Played On," when public health officials still faced an epidemic that was small enough to control, Reagan stubbornly refused to give them the very modest resources they needed to successfully do their jobs to stop the spread of the disease - even going so far as to fire some of those who found the resources and did their jobs anyway. Apparently, Reagan saw in AIDS an opportunity to kill large numbers of the gay men he privately deeply loathed in a way that could not be blamed on him - in his arrogance and hubris, not accepting the evidence that it would inevitably spread to "decent" people as well. The result was that the AIDS epidemic got established well beyond the ability of the public health community to stop it. Indeed, more than 30,000 Americans had died before he ever even uttered the word "AIDS" in public. More than three million have died around the world so far - one every few seconds. Just because of Ronnie's hate which he demonstrated so well when he became the only American president to ever disown his own child, Ronnie Jr., who came out as a gay man while Reagan was in office.

--- Reagan's de-regulation of the savings and loan industry was directly responsible for incentivizing a burst of fraud and misuse of depositors' money on a scale that threatened to bring down the entire economy, had not drastic measures been taken promptly. The result was the largest bail-out of private interests by public money in the history of the planet. The average taxpayers in the United States will pay for that mistake to the tune of $278 each year - all those past years, this year, next year and every year for the rest of their lives. Those Reagan supporters must think that little ideological exercise was worth it - they continue to push for the same policies of deregulation for other industries that brought about the crisis in that one.

--- The prosperity of the Reagan years was a sham - it happened by simply borrowing money and spending it to throw a party - something it hardly takes an economic genius to do. In his two terms as president, Ronald Reagan's deficit spending ran up four out of every five dollars of the U.S. national debt. The result is that you can add thousands of dollars to public debt financing to the $278 listed above, that you, if you are an American taxpayer, will be expected to support every year. Indeed, during the congressional session of 1982, the American public was treated to the spectacle of the "tax and spend" Democrats desperately struggling to trim the budget of a "borrow and spend" Republican president.

--- Ronald Reagan presided over the most thoroughly corrupt administration in American history. Of the 7,000 presidential appointees of his administration, fully ten percent, more than 700, were indicted for or convicted of felonies committed while in office. Indeed, two of his attorneys general were among those so honored - and they were the cabinet officers charged with enforcing the law! I recall commenting to a friend, one day during that era, that the government of the day in Canada was in danger of collapsing, because two of its cabinet ministers were being investigated for the commission of felonies. My friend remarked that if we got within an order of magnitude of that level of performance, it would be major progress for us.

--- But perhaps the most serious legacy of the Reagan administration is that, in the words of the retiring Chief Justice Frankfurter, "he made intolerance and meanspiritedness acceptable." Indeed, I would go further, and say that he made it not only acceptable, but even fashionable. The result is that the United States has largely abandoned the egalitarian commitment to equality of opportunity that is enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, and which, over two centuries of increasingly egalitarian public policy, was directly responsible for making the U.S. the most economically successful nation in history. And a subtle, but extremely toxic elitism, pioneered by Reagan, has taken hold, that has opened the door to the fascism that is sweeping through the American body politic, eating away at and destroying its egalitarian core.

--- And finally, it is quite difficult for me to have sympathy for Nancy, when she supported her own husband in his controversial and sweetly ironic decision to veto the use of federal funds for stem-cell research which could quite possibly have led to a cure for the disease that ended up killing him. Isn't it interesting how, when it was just other peoples' kin who were dying of diseases for which stem cell research offered a potential cure, Nancy's religious prejudices were more important than their suffering? But when it became her own husband, how her tune changed! If stem cell research isn't important enough for us, maybe it isn't important enough for you, Nancy. How about a little moral consistency?

So there you have it. There is the real legacy of the Reagan years. And as you watch all those memorials over the next few days, perhaps it is worth remembering what is being carefully left out by the editors of the television programs you are watching.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 07:38:48 PM

Beautiful Sunday Morning

Today dawned bright and beautiful in Nuevo Arenal, with just a hint of a few clouds in the east and south, but mostly sunny and bright everywhere. The temperature, as always, was just about perfect, so I ate my breakfast out on the porch, taking in the beautiful morning. It couldn't have been more pleasant - not a hint of a breeze, and the birds singing in the trees. I added a new species to my bird count list - a yellow-throated euphonia, a male, hanging out in the fern baskets, looking for bugs.

Yesterday, I really should have gone to town for a few things from the ferreteria (hardware store), and perhaps a bit of grocery shopping too, but it didn't happen. I started to read a book I have had for some time but hadn't had time to read. It is "Body of Secrets," a history of the National Security Agency, the "other" spy agency in the U.S. government (well, one of the other two - the third is the Office of Naval Intelligence). Well, the book proved to be too fascinating to put down, and I have been having a hard time tearing myself away from it. I have already gone through about a third of its 750-plus pages.

I'll try to do better today. I did manage, last Friday, to get some of the tall - and old - ginger cut down and hauled to the leaf-litter pile, which is getting truly enormous. I really wish I had a chipper to get it all chopped up and best readied for a charcoal kiln. But no such luck - I'll have to just have to build my kiln and really pack it in, I guess, cutting it up a bit with the machete. I really need to get going on some charcoal-making, too, as the soil in the yard is really poor and in dire need of amendments, and my leaf-litter pile is getting to be unmanageably huge. I am going to go to the feed store tomorrow and get good amount of fertilizer as a stop-gap measure, while I am figuring out what to do about a charcoal kiln. My gardener tells me that the pejibaye palm is in dire need of some 10-30-10 fertilizer. I also asked him about a tree that I didn't know what variety it is, and it turns out it is a Mexican avacado. I didn't recognize it because it too, is in such dire need of fertilizer that it is badly stunted and has rather yellowed leaves. I have a bunch of other things, too, that are in dire need of some fertilizer. Turns out that is why my banana plants are also rather small and not really flourishing.

One of the banana roots that I planted three weeks ago is finally sprouting - and I hope it does well. Two of the others seem to have died, and the last one is flourishing, doing quite well so far, having already sprouted a daughter plant. But all are in rather sterile ground, and need a good dose of abono (fertilizer). I am hoping that will give me a better crop of larger bananas than what I have been getting.

The skies are clouding over again. Looks like it may be raining again soon. Maybe I'll just go back to my reading.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 01:08:17 PM

Fri, Jun 04 2004

Bird Changeout

Well, I have been getting up a bit later these days, not wanting to get up early, and having no real need to. So I have been relaxing in bed for a bit. Today was an exception. I got to be fairly early last night and so was up fairly early this morning. But getting to bed was a bit interesting - I quickly found that the carpenter ants were back, and rather bad, so I had to get up and find out what was going on. I found another hole in the partition that I hadn't noticed before, and got it plugged and the ants sprayed, and went back to bed. The smell of the insecticide was a bit off-putting, but I had little choice.

Anyway, this morning was bright, almost sunny, and a good morning to be in the garden. But I have got to go to town, and get the tax forms mailed, and also get some groceries and a copy of the Times, and that will occupy much of the morning. The gardener isn't here yet, and I suspect that he may have decided to come tomorrow instead of today. Not that I mind, I just wish he would let me know.

But the garden is beautiful, and full of bird-songs this morning. They're competing with a neighbor's lawn mowing, but that won't last, and then it will be back to tranquilo. I spent some time yesterday afternoon, after the taxes were done, in the rocking chair on the front porch, getting the species recorded that I have seen since I have been here, and I have positively identified 12 species, but have seen probably four times that, which I could not positively identify. For the end of the dry season, it seems that the dominant small songbirds around here were western tanagers, various flycatchers and euphonias, but those have mostly gone now, and have been replaced by a variety of other species. One of the joys of living here is the seasonal change in the color provided by all the brightly colored tropical birds. Arenal is a particular delight for birders, because most of the species of the country are represented here - more than four hundred species have been spotted here, more than in all of the U.S. and Canada combined.

Yesterday, I saw a chestnut-mandibled toucan, the first time I have seen that particular species. In fact, I saw two of them. The second was being chased by a smaller bird, and when he sought refuge in the large tree on the hilltop across the road, he hadn't been there more than a couple of minutes, when two other small birds chased him off. I suspect he has been busy robbing eggs from nests. All the guide books say that toucans are fruit eaters, and they do eat fruit - avidly seeking out wild avocados - but they are much more than that. They'll avidly go after bird eggs, tree frogs, large insects and about anything else they can get their rather capacious beaks around. A friend of mine here takes in sick and wounded toucans, under license from the government, and he feeds them small lizards, eggs and large insects, in addition to fruit, and he tells me that they will take all of them quite eagerly. He says they are fairly easy to rehabilitate.

There is a bright blue bird with black wings that is hanging out in a fruit tree just outside my office window, and I suspect he may be nesting, but I haven't spotted the nest if he is. I don't know what species he is as I haven't gotten a good enough look to tell - there are three or four possibilities. Yesterday, I also spotted a scarlet-rumped tanager. All black, except as it flew past, a scarlet red patch on its back, between the wings and the tail was very much in evidence, but only when seen from behind. Quite a striking species.

One of the currently dominant small bird species in Arenal right now is the blue-gray tanager. Somewhat similar to the indigo bunting, which is also present, it is a bit less brightly colored and much more common. This morning a pair were hanging out in the big mango tree that hangs out over the street. That tree has not been maintained, so there is a lot of moss and epiphytes growing on the limbs, and it looked like they were cleaning off a spot for a nest. It would be a joy to have them build there, because the spot is easily visible from where my rocking chair is located on the front porch, and the mess would fall out into the street, so they're welcome to move in there and raise all the chicks they would like. Of course, they would be vulnerable to the bird-catching snake that hangs out in the garden, if he's still there. But I haven't seen him for a week or so, so he may have moved on.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 08:15:23 AM

Thu, Jun 03 2004

Lovely Weather Ends

Yesterday's weather was delightful, and I was thrilled to see it continue, though it started clouding up by the end of the day. In the early afternoon, it began to rain, and seriously. I was actually a bit glad to see it - things were getting a bit dry, especially the impatiens that are so sensitive to dry weather and wilting. And it rained hard, on and off, most of the night, so the garden is fresh and well watered this morning.

I made a run to Tilaran yesterday, mostly to see my lawyer about a number of matters of concern to me. I was particularly interested in seeing if the Registro Nacional had returned the escritura (essentially, the deed) for my property, and indeed they had, so I collected it. While in Tilaran, I also stopped by the ICE office to cancel my RDSI order, since in reading their literature, it is apparent that it will not do what I need. So I went in, sat down in front of the agent, and he checked my account.

"We don't have an order for RDSI service for this account," he said. "Oh, really? I ordered it just a week ago," said I. "Nope. It's not on the books."

Ok, so I left, figuring I didn't have to cancel it after all. It never got entered in the computer or something. Anyway, not to worry. So I went about my other business in Tilaran, a bit of grocery shopping, and a check at the larger ferreteria (hardware store) in town to see if they had any large plastic drain pipe I could use for my raft project. Turns out that they carry it all the way up to ten inch, but it is horribly expensive in that size - well over $200 per twenty-one foot length. That's out. Guess I will have to see if I can find some five-gallon paint buckets and collect about six of those to build it. That would certainly be cheap enough. If not, about four cheap, plastic ten-gallon jerry cans would do the job.

When I returned home from Tilaran yesterday, I was tired enough that I took a good long siesta, and woke up feeling refreshed, but wanting to get out in the garden for an evening walkabout. It had rained enough in the afternoon, that I decided to put on my rubber boots and went out to check things out. It appears that yet another inflorescence has appeared and opened up on my pejibaye palm, and I will now have three clusters of fruit developing up there. A fourth and fifth are developing, too, and if they don't abort, I should be swimming in pejibaye fruit in a few months. The termite activity on the orange tree seems to have abated; perhaps the Volatan finally got to them. I really need to get some pipe and iron rod, however, to make a tool to pull down the bromeliads and moss, so the tree has a fighting chance of coming back. Maybe I'll go to the ferreteria tomorrow and do that.

This morning, I had no sooner gotten breakfast out of the way, when ICE showed up, wanting to inspect my line for the RDSI order that I supposedly don't have pending. I explained that they were welcome to check the line if they pleased, but that I had already attempted to cancel the order, without success. They got a good laugh out of that one, knowing full well how the bureacracy in their own organization manages to get things messed up at times. Anyway, they told me that DSL is coming, but not to expect to see it till next year. That is what I had learned from other sources as well, so I guess I have a minimum of six months of dial-up to look forward to.

As I type this, another ICE crew is here, trimming trees away from the power lines. That is a never-ending task for them - trees grow quickly here, so they spend a lot of time trimming. Their crews out doing that are a very common sight in this country. Keeping the jungle beat back is a challenge here. While here, they stopped to check the street light in front of my house that cycles on and off all day and night. They cleaned the sensor lens and lamp, and that seems to have done the trick. They told me to call the office if and when it has a problem. I am glad to see the darned thing fixed. It makes a lot of racket on the radio when it is in the warm-up phase, which is most of the time. This way, at least I will only have to put up with the radio noise it makes for about five minutes per day. I can live with that. The light out on the street is another matter. I wish it weren't there, but with all the pedestrian traffic up and down my road, I can see why it is necessary, so I guess I will just have to live with it.

Today was tax day. I really had to get going on that, as the filing deadline for out-of-country filers is the fifteenth, and I have done little towards getting it put together. Thanks to the games being played with my mail service, I don't have anywhere near all the forms I need from various people, and can't get them, but I will have to just go ahead and file anyway, estimating as best I can, and hope I come close. I hate this mail harassment I have been subjected to, with all the problems it has caused me in doing my taxes. And I'll sure be glad to not have to file next year. Costa Rican taxes are far, far simpler to deal with, and much lower to boot. I wound up filing 37 pages for a $31 tax liability. In Costa Rica, my tax returns last year consisted of two pages, took less than an hour to do, and my liability was virtually nothing - this year, I'll have to pay property tax, as I now own a property, but even that doesn't amount to that much. Less than a third of what I would have paid in the States for a property of similar value. So the sooner I can dump the States, the better I'll like it. And I sure would prefer not being a "U.S. Person" any longer. Then I would be truly free. At last.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 09:29:52 AM

Tue, Jun 01 2004

Adventures In Pest Control, Part II

As I often do early in the morning just after breakfast, I went out for a little walk around the garden this morning, both to enjoy the flowers and the nice weather, and also to have a look at things and see how they are doing. I was headed over towards the banana patch to see how the bunches are all doing, but stopped to have a look at the termite nest in the ancient old Creole orange tree that I had dealt with some time ago. As instructed, I had poured some diesel fuel on it, and that put a stop to activity in that part of it, but today I discovered that they were hard at work building a new, uncontaminated nest. Like the diesel was just an inconvenience, but not a disaster. So I decided I would need to get serious.

I went and got the shovel and dug out the nest, chipping it out in big chunks which came crashing to the ground, with thousands of tiny little brown termites swarming out to survey the damage. Chipping away at it, I got a couple of cubic feet of sponge-like nest out of the tree, and onto the ground, with probably two or three pounds of these tiny insects swarming everywhere - literally pouring out of the damaged nest as it remained in the tree. When I had it all dug out, I got out the hose and washed as much of the remaining nest material out as I could, and got the tree pretty much cleaned up. No nest left, but I had to clean a lot of moss and epiphytes off of the trunk. I had discovered that the termites were crawling under the moss and using it as a protected transit route. I spent the better part of an hour cleaning off all the moss and epiphytes, and removing remnants of the nest from the cavities in the trunk as best I could from the ground. It is all gone now, but the termites were still crawling around the bottom of the trunk of the tree a lot, so I figured the best thing to do was sprinkle around some of that all-purpose pesticide, Volatan. I made sure the trunk was circled, and it was in all the crevices in the trunk, as well as all the water-collecting cavities.

The tree is a really old one - I figure at least a century old - and so I don't know how well it will recover, if at all. It also has a terribly bad epiphyte burden up high were I can't get at it, and I really need to deal with that so the tree has a chance to re-sprout and recover. One other Creole orange tree that was practically buried in epiphytes, which I cleaned up about a month ago, is doing nicely now. It has watershoots three feet long all over it, and seems to be doing well. I think that the real problem with trying to grow citrus in this climate, besides sooty fungus on old leaf growth, is epiphytes. I am going to have to build a ladder that I can use to get up in the trees and remove the epiphyte burden - all of the Creole oranges that I have need that done, and I am sure they would produce much better if their limbs and branches were clean. The trees don't seem to mind a bit of diesel fuel on their limbs, and I think I am going to try putting a little oil on the bark of the citrus to see if that keeps the moss and epiphytes under control. I am also going to build a tool for reaching epiphytes and moss from the ground, as that would save a lot of effort in trying to get up there to do that.

Well, after all that effort in pest control, I finally got back to the banana patch and had a close look at the banana bunches to see how they are coming along. One bunch will probably be ready by the end of the week, and another in about two weeks. And the largest banana plant that I have, one almost twenty feet high, has just come into bloom. It looks like it is going to be a really big bunch, as big as the commercial bunches, and that will create a real glut of bananas when it is finally cut down and ripened. It is up high, too, and I don't have a clue as to how I am going to get up there to cut it down when it is ready.

Most of the rest of the garden is looking pretty good these days. My recently transplanted caladiums are doing magnificently - they are all putting out new leaves, and the aroid that I found over in the road by the jungle, is also doing well and putting out new leaves. I need to find a source of chunky, angular rock that I can use to build the stairway down to the dock, though, so that I can make that pathway look like it was intended, and not just the cascade of mud steps it is now. I also need to weed one of the flowerbeds next to the pathway - it is full of grass and in dire need of being weeded. The giant ginger down by the pond also needs to be thinned out - it has a lot of old and dying leaves in it - but I am going to have to get the rubber boots on to do that one. It is really boggy down there. While down there, I also need to cut down the bog mesquite. It is looking really messy. All the leafcutter colonies that I poisoned seem to have been killed - no evidence that any of them have survived. Great! I am glad to be rid of those fascinating, but thoroughly destructive little buggers.

It is about sunset as I write this. I stepped outside to enjoy the sunset, and noticed that my white gardenia, which has been blooming magnificently since the rains began, is putting out its evening scent. It is a really powerful rose-like fragrance. It is a joy to have it next to the office window, where I can look up and see its beautiful white flowers. Most of the ends of the branches have new flower buds on them, too, so it looks like I will be enjoying this for some time. I am thinking about taking some cuttings and planting some more of these handsome shrubs in other parts of the garden.

I have had several responses to my new essay, a book review of "The Sovereign Individual." They have, so far, all been warmly positive, and I am sufficiently gratified by the response that I am considering taking on a new essay on the "conspiracy" behind that book. I use that word hesitatingly, because I don't consider it a full-blown conspiracy as much as a casual collusion, but I think it needs to be analyzed and discussed publicly, as it represents a serious threat to the values of the Enlightenment. If people understood more about that collusion, then I think current events would make more sense to them. And when Hillary Clinton talks about a "vast right-wing conspiracy," they wouldn't be laughing anymore.

|| Scott Bidstrup, Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica 05:03:07 PM
Copyright © 2003 Scott Bidstrup. All rights reserved.